Rakeem Brookins and his sister bumped into Tyrone Garland while shopping at King of Prussia (Pa.) Mall during Christmas break.
“My sister had gone to La Salle, and we were walking in the mall, and I ran into him, and he looked at me and said [to her], ‘Yeah, you see what hoodie he has on right now?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, whatever . . .’ ” Brookins said with a laugh on Friday.
The kidding will be put aside at 7 tonight when the Philadelphia natives square off at the Times Union Center.
After a coaching change permitted Brookins to rescind his commitment to Tulane, the two schools which renewed their recruiting interest with intensity were La Salle and Siena, and the 5-foot-10 guard from Roman Catholic High School picked Siena.
Garland returned to Philadelphia via transfer from Virginia Tech and is one of two friends Brookins has on the La Salle roster; guard Tyreek Duren is the other.
At 2-10 and saddled with an eight-game losing streak, the Saints are desperate for a win.
After a three-game suspension and a back injury, Brookins has begun to grow more comfortable in the offense, scoring 18 points in Sunday’s 81-75 loss at Fordham.
Besides his desire to keep that trend going, Brookins has the added motivation to beat one of his hometown teams.
“I’m looking forward to this,” he said. “There are some guys I played against, some rivalry guys back home. I just can’t wait, it should be fun.”
La Salle, coached by John Giannini, is off to an 8-2 start, its best since going 9-1 to begin 1989-90 with National Player of the Year Lionel Simmons.
The Explorers’ explosive offense presents a difficult challenge for Siena’s usually stingy defense in that they frequently rely on a guard-heavy rotation, three of whom, including Garland, average at least 15.7 points per game.
The Saints are concerned about Ramon Galloway’s ability to make three-pointers in transition. He’s leading the Atlantic 10 in scoring, at 18.0 ppg, and is making 43.5 percent of his threes.
Duren is not far behind, at 40.5 percent, and is averaging 16.4 ppg, fourth best in the A-10.
“It’s a very unique team,” Siena head coach Mitch Buonaguro said. “They have really good guards. Galloway, Duren, they just picked up Garland, [Sam] Mills, four of what I would call high-quality guards. They go small a lot, and that can create a problem on the defensive end.”
“It’s very similar to the UMass game,” Siena senior forward O.D. Anosike said. “It’s a very talented team, but a very winnable game. They do some things that we think we can exploit. Obviously, their guards are really good, Duren and Galloway and all those guys. They can drive and shoot. That’s their strength, but conversely, inside they’re not as great. They have some weaknesses inside, and we’re going to try to exploit them.”
As well as Siena’s offense performed (47 points) in the second half of the Fordham game, it still pales in comparison to some of the numbers La Salle has shown.
The Explorers scored 66 in the first half of a 100-71 win over Sacred Heart and scored 88 points against Iona the game before that.
“When they start the game, they’re a conventional team, but then he goes small, and that’s when they create problems, when they bring Garland off the bench,” Buonaguro said. “At the start of the game, we’ll be all right, because I’m going to start Imoh [Silas], and as the game goes on, we might have to go small.”
Silas, a 6-foot-8 forward who missed his freshman season because of an NCAA eligibility ruling, had his best game against Fordham, with six points and six rebounds in 29 minutes.
He finished a three-point play with 2:17 left to bring Siena within 74-69.
“He was aggressive,” Buonaguro said after the game. “That’s a big step. Six-and-six . . . if we can get him to 10 now, as the fifth guy, He’s really a freshman, but he competed hard and earned some good minutes.”
Siena and La Salle haven’t played each other since La Salle was a member of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in 1992.
Anosike needs seven points to become the 38th 1,000-point scorer in program history. . . .
Fred Shear’s No. 50 jersey will be retired during a halftime ceremony.
The Waterford-Halfmoon High graduate still has the school’s second-highest scoring average (20.3) and fifth-best rebounding average (9.5). . . .
Siena is asking fans attending the game to bring canned and non-perishable food items to donate.
Collection bins for the Northeastern Regional Food Bank will be situated at all entrances to the arena.